“I WILL be back,” Hungarian president László Sólyom said last year as he stood on the Elisabeth Bridge linking the Hungarian town of Komárom with its Slovak twin Komárno across the Danube. Slovakia’s authorities had barred him from entering Slovakia, touching off a diplomatic spat between the two countries. A year on, Sólyom, who is no longer the president of Hungary, announced plans to visit Komárno – but this time as a private person.
The Hungarian-language Slovak daily Új Szó reported on August 17 that Sólyom, who recently stepped down from the presidency to be replaced by Pál Schmitt, would visit Komárno on Sunday, August 22, to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of St Stephen, the object of his original planned visit.
Sólyom’s decision to accept the invitation as a private person carries a certain symbolism, since Sólyom’s originally-planned visit was supposed to have been unofficial, to attend the unveiling of the St Stephen statue. That took place exactly one year ago, on August 21, 2009. However, Slovakia’s corresponding state officials were not invited, and a day before the ceremony then-prime minister Robert Fico, President Ivan Gašparovič and then-speaker of parliament Pavol Paška issued a joint statement saying that Sólyom was not welcome in Slovakia on August 21 for several reasons, including ongoing tensions between the two countries because of Slovakia’s controversial State Language Act, and the sensitivity of the date (August 21 is the anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by most Warsaw Pact countries, including Hungary).
Sólyom, however, did not cancel his visit to Slovakia and so the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry conveyed an official message to him asking him to disregard the invitation to Komárno and not to enter Slovakia. Eventually, Sólyom did not cross the border and instead convened a press conference on the Hungarian side of the Elisabeth Bridge.
Slovakia based its denial of entry on directives of the European Parliament and the European Council which allow EU countries to deny cross-border movement to dangerous persons. The Slovak authorities claimed Sólyom’s visit represented a security risk.
Hungary turned to European institutions with complaints about Slovakia’s stance towards Sólyom. The European Commission ruled on June 24 this year that Slovakia did not violate the laws of the European Union by refusing to allow Sólyom into Slovakia, but the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is still expected to deal with the case.
The commission ruled that it was unable to bring infringement proceedings under the circumstances described, since “official visits by the head of one Member State to the territory of another Member State do not come under EU law and Member States retain full control of their bilateral diplomatic relations”, as quoted by TASR.
This time around, Slovak Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer was invited to the wreath-laying ceremony along with Sólyom, but declined the invitation saying that he would be abroad on the day.
“The minister regards Hungarian history as being Slovak history too, but despite the fact that he holds a positive attitude to the personality of St Stephen and he personally spoke with the mayor of Komárno, he will be away this weekend and so will not come to Komárno,” Eva Chudinová, Krajcer’s spokesperson, said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
The chairman of the opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), Ján Slota, known for his hard-line statements against minorities in general and Hungarians in particular, was quick to react to news of Sólyom’s impending visit to Komárno, saying he regarded it a “pure provocation”.
“It’s just a start of what is going to happen in Slovakia,” Slota said, as quoted by SITA. “It will be bad for the whole Slovak nation and the Slovak state.”
Slota’s SNS was part of the ruling coalition at the time Sólyom was barred from Slovakia last year.
The present centre-right government led by Iveta Radičová has said it is committed to developing friendlier relation towards Hungary and towards the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia and one of Radičová's first foreign visits was to Budapest.
23. Aug 2010 at 0:00 | By Michaela Stanková with press reports